Monday, December 28, 2015

Tree of Light

The Mystery within...
Before Christmas I stopped at the Care Center and brought a small nativity ornament made out of olive wood from a tree in Bethlehem to my wheelchair bound ninety plus year old friend, Ginny.  She truly loved the little ornament, which made me happy.  While I was there she wondered if the Christmas tree at her parish would now be decorated because she really would like to see it lit up and said she is planning to call a taxi to come and take her some morning to see it.  I called the church office and confirmed the tree was up and offered to come the next morning to take her to an 8:00 a.m. communion service.  She was as excited as a little child.   

There is much more than a Christmas tree that draws Ginny back to her home parish.  The house she reluctantly left is next door to the church and she wanted to see if the statue of St. Anne was still in the backyard.  We could see St. Anne standing watch over her house from a side door behind the altar; a door Ginny would open every morning to set up for the many different priests saying mass.      

Sitting at the communion service with her my thoughts went back to my relationship with my former parish--daily attendance at mass, a place where I once found solace from deep grief, and sometimes direction when I doubted my path.  But I was also keenly aware of the patriarchy that I left.  I heard it in the deacon's readings; saw it in the restricted altar; and felt freedom from it in my mind, heart and soul.  As the deacon exited I told him Ginny would like to see the Christmas tree lit and asked if he could make that happen.  He walked around the tree and then disappeared into the office.

We waited--walked around the tree, visited the manger, commented on models of the two prior church buildings that once served members now long gone, lit a candle to St. Anne and waited some more.  I then went into the office and started to tell a woman behind a desk, "I am on a mission to…" when my voice cracked and my eyes clouded with tears.  My emotion surprised me but eventually I got the rest of the sentence out, "…get the tree lights on for Ginny." I was told no one knows where the remote is to turn on the lights; they thought we left so they stopped looking for it.  I felt so let down, not just because Ginny wouldn't see the tree lit, but for all the abuse patriarchy had perpetrated in my life and the lives of countless others.

I walked back to the darkened vestibule where Ginny waited and told her I wasn't sure we would see the tree lit and I am going to go to the washroom.  I took my time, slowly and methodically washing my hands hoping she wouldn't be disappointed.  When I came out there she was aglow in a thousand tiny white lights glinting off the gold trimmings on the tree.  A teacher had found the remote for she wanted to bring her young students over to see the tree.

Though I have no doubt leaving church was the right decision for me, letting patriarchy be would not be good for the children. 

What if we all questioned our relationship with patriarchy and what we can do for the children?

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Closer Walk

The Mystery within...
The day following writing my post, Befriending Time, I took some time to walk to the beach with Oliver (my current yellow lab) who replaced Ben, who followed my original beach buddy Bear (shepherd husky mix). This past May, the day before my knee replacement surgery, along with my son, daughter and a granddaughter, we took Ben and Bear's ashes into the valley that opens to Lake Michigan.  Oliver and I now made our first return to the beach since my knee surgery.  It was a mild December afternoon--mostly cloudy inland but I could see blue sky and sunshine hugging the shoreline in the east.  The prospect of sun on my face and earth beneath my feet over road my concern for a safe trek.  I took my snowshoe poles to steady me on the uneven, and in some places, muddied and puddled path.

Worry for secure footing disappeared with each step.  I was so very grateful for coming, as was Oliver.  But I definitely felt something missing and soon identified it as a sense of very deep personal connection with my natural surroundings.  When I regularly walked here with Bear, I frequently experienced a transforming energy coming from the nature surrounding me.  It was an energy that gradually grew me and overcame my fear, opened my eyes to injustice, and led me to trust my inmost self, my feminine wisdom--God's slow work in me.  It was a very dark time in my life that shed much light.  I was reminded it was the reason I wrote "God Never Hurries" for I always wanted to remember the uniqueness of those closer walks with Light.

What if we always knew a closer walk with Light waits for us in darkness?   

Monday, December 14, 2015

Befriending Time

I have been feeling pressed for time by the wants or needs for my attention.  Now added to everything else are holiday expectations.  Didn’t we just have Christmas?  The older I get the faster time flies.  When I was a child a year dragged on for a very long time.  Now, twelve short months tick off at break neck speed.  I long to befriend time and have been pondering how to do that.

I recalled a paragraph I wrote in “God Never Hurries:”

On public radio that morning two sociologists spoke of different cultures’ concept of time and its effect.  Cultures that related more with past time lived with more guilt (example, Italy), while future oriented cultures lived more with anxiety (example, United States).  The present moment was said to be the aim, for it puts us in touch with God.  There must not have been an example of a more present moment culture for surely I would have written it down.  But I am thinking indigenous people were more present living—more in touch with everything that is—more in touch with God.  The guest also gave a definition of eternity.  It is the present moment with no past or future.  Yes, I thought, it just is—like God.

Learning to live more in the present moment is most likely key to befriending time.  Being grateful for what has gotten done, and accepting what hasn’t, would also help curb my current anxiety.  More time for myself, without guilt, also seems like a positive move.  What else would leave me more at peace with time?

What if we all periodically questioned our relationship with time?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Embracing Diversity

The Mystery within...
Howard Zinn’s brutal detailing of the horrific cruelty to native people, and later to imported black slaves, in “A Peoples History of the United States 1492 to Present,” has made me set the book aside for a while to recover. Learning of this deep darkness can grow empathy and compassion for the wronged that is needed to end derogatory thoughts and assigning inferior status to the other.   Awareness of our country’s shadowy beginnings sheds light on the lingering racism of today.  According to Carl Jung, knowing our own shadow can be pure gold for enacting positive change.  Hopefully, understanding our country’s shadow can grow us all to embrace diversity.

Can we all work on discovering and befriending the unique gifts within different cultures? Can we ask for forgiveness from the wronged?  Can we turn contempt into respect?  Can pity become admiration? Can we learn to replace hatred with love?

We are all connected to everyone and everything.  The healthiest ecosystems in the natural world are the most diverse with symbiotic relationships.  Embracing cultural diversity would improve both humanity and the natural world.

What if we all became gardeners growing diversity?

Monday, November 30, 2015

Deep Learning

The Mystery within...
Last Thanksgiving I made a real blunder when I wished my Native American friend a “Happy Thanksgiving.”  She responded in a quiet, kind voice and told me “Thanksgiving is a day of mourning for us.  We feast on the following Friday.”  Her acceptance of my ignorance, and the kind tone of her correction, made a lasting impression on me so that a year later I am still grateful for my deep learning that is now helping me see with new eyes and a more open heart. 

And I am now reading Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States,” telling of America’s history from 1492 to present from the perspective of the people affected by those who wielded power.  He presents eye-opening accounts of a different view of history and makes me question the motives of the powerful today.  He writes of Columbus coming into a world “…where the culture was complex, where human relations were more egalitarian than in Europe, and where the relations among men, women, children, and nature were more beautifully worked out than perhaps any place in the world.” 

Zinn cites an American scholar, John Collier, who lived among Native Americans in the Southwest in the 1920s and 1930s who said of their spirit, “Could we make it our own, there would be an eternally inexhaustible earth and a forever lasting peace.”  Zinn also cites a current American specialist on Native American life, William Brandon, who “…is overwhelmingly supportive of much of the myth.  Even allowing for the imperfection of myths, it is enough to make us question, for that time and ours, the excuse of progress in the annihilation of races, and the telling of history from the standpoint of the conquerors and leaders of Western civilization.”

Mistakes come with deep learning opportunities.  Being shown mine by a kind and gentle voice was a golden learning opportunity that also brought heartfelt empathy and compassion.

What if we all learned to inform and correct one another with a quiet, kind voice?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Reflecting on Instability

The Mystery within
“Yet it is the law of all progress that is made by passing through some stages of instability and that may take a very long time.”  From Trust in the Slow Work of God by Teilhard de Chardin

Instability is with us in dysfunctional politics, families, neighborhoods, and worldwide terrorism.  Each of us has a role in helping stabilize dysfunction and leading us to become more whole human beings.  In my November 18, 2013 blog post titled, “So Who Are We?” I cite a study from the evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson’s book The NeighborhoodProject—Using Evolution to Improve My City One Block at a Time.

Wilson cites a first grade teacher who taught for thirty-four years and whose students were followed into adulthood measuring grade of education completed, occupational attainment, and condition of their home.  Sixty-four percent of her students scored in the highest category compared with only 29 percent of students of other teachers.  When the other teachers were asked how this teacher taught they said with a lot of love, confidence in her children, vowing no child would leave her class without being able to read, staying after school to help struggling students, and sharing her lunch with children who forgot theirs.  Wilson says gardeners would understand these stunning results since they “…know that a small difference in how the seedlings are tended can make huge difference in their yield at the end of the season.”

We can’t all be outstanding first grade teachers but we can all be gardeners by reflecting throughout each day on the many ways we can positively react with those who we encounter.  When we bump into unpleasantness, be curious about the other instead of offended.  Work at respecting diversity.  Catch someone doing something right and praise him or her.  Smile more.  Give an inconsiderate driver a pass.  Thank someone for a kindness.  What more can you add to the list?   

What if we began each day asking how can I make someone else’s day?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Fear, Forgiveness and Prayer

The Mystery within...
Fear, forgiveness and prayer have been on my mind with the recent mayhem wrought by the terrorists in France.  Damning talk of revenge has me longing for prayers for the perpetrators of those heinous acts and prayers for the rest of us to accept our anger and fear that can start us on our work to forgive.  I know something of prayer, fear and forgiveness for they threaded throughout my memoir.  Some excerpts from “God Never Hurries:”

I sensed fear was at the heart of my father’s need to control, and his fears undoubtedly were heightened by my mother’s growing dementia and the fact that she had been the center of all things relative to a functioning home. 

…I felt empathy for his fears along with a sense of futility in any attempted dialogue. 

…I was also truly scared.  Scared for my mother’s and my safety. 

…fear is more than fight or flight.  Guile and cleverness are just two of many ways to address fear; and fear keeps the world in check.  [Adapted from “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin De Becker.]

[I attended] …a two day workshop on forgiveness sponsored by a Unitarian church in Milwaukee featuring Robert Enright and Susan Freedman from the International Forgiveness Institute.  I had previously heard them tell of their mission on public radio—to help people gain knowledge about forgiveness and to use that knowledge for personal, group, and societal renewal.

It was comforting to learn that forgiveness is a process; the first step is believing it is a possibility.  We can then look to our Pride, the negative kind, which blocks the process.  Denial of anger was cited as a clue to Pride and an obstacle to forgiveness.  It takes humility to admit being hurt.  It is humbling to admit woundedness.  Therefore, it can be healthy to get angry and Prideful to deny it.  Pride was said to be a formidable foe for we are very unaware of it.  I also learned forgiveness is most needed where things are least safe; and you need to be in a safe place to work on forgiveness.

Forgiveness benefits were many and were said to come from the heart and the head and resulted in emotional control.  It was said true forgiveness is not trivial for it transforms who we are.  Freedom and a more real view of life are its fruits.  Forgiveness is also giving up resentment and coming to view the perpetrator with compassion.

Like Teyve in Fiddler on the Roof, I had many informal conversations with God.  I am called to pray for my enemies out of love--though love does not preclude justice for the wronged--it just makes me more whole.  And I learned to trust God's slow work in me.  

What if we all became more whole by praying for our enemies out of love?

Monday, November 9, 2015


The Mystery within...
From “God Never Hurries:”

…my heart, mind, body and soul were consumed in what the day might hold.  But I was most aware of my soul.  It seemed to be telling me, “Love is courage talking, not long-suffering silence.” 


I helped my mother bathe.  I felt my touch asking for her forgiveness.  I saw it in her eyes.  My heart wanted to stay.  My head said, “Go”; my back said “Hurry”; my soul said; “Leave.” 

During those years of intense learning, as I struggled with my aging parents needs and my own self-care, I began experiencing my mind, heart, body and soul as distinct parts working together on my behalf.  I ached for naturalness and just wanted to blend into the natural world where everything is connected and works to support the whole.  There a deer first led me to know curiosity was the way to go; and finally another deer showed me others do lay down their life in order for me to grow.  Thunder storms, snow falls, sunrises, sunsets, frogs, fox, herons, hummingbirds, black birds, sea gulls, raccoon, and more all came with messages from which I learned. 

So I wasn’t surprised when I heard at Jean Watson’s Caritas Caring Science workshop that there is current science at Heart Math Research studying how the physical heart is more than just a pump but communicates with the brain.  In my experience I would add the body and soul are also in cahoots along with the natural world. 

What if we all became aware of the connections within ourselves, between each other, and the natural world?         

Monday, November 2, 2015

Curiosity Heals

The Mystery within...
From “God Never Hurries:”

…I did know curiosity had become a newly discovered virtue that was keeping my soul supple.  It helped me look for truth.  I don’t ever remember curiosity encouraged in my youth.  A tree of knowledge with a serpent was invented to tell me not to look—and then there is the banning of books.  Did it really kill the cat?  I wished I learned much earlier how best to care for my soul. 

I remembered the above passage from my memoir when one of the panel members at Jean Watson’s Caring Science Institute conference said, “When confronted with trouble, step back and be curious.”  Instantly it made sense to me.  Instead of reacting out of fear, or letting the ego take affront, be curious about the confrontation.

Words Wikipedia associates with curiosity:  from Latin curiosus akin to cura, care;  inquisitive thinking, exploration, investigation, learning, desire to gain knowledge, and force behind human development.  

Creativity is born from curiosity.  When confronted with trouble, I can step back, be curious and creative, and learn how to care about myself and my confronter.

What if we all were curious and creative in uncovering the mysteries of caring?      

Monday, October 26, 2015

An Inside Job

The Mystery within... 

From God Never Hurries:

God is in the sunshine,
God is in the rain.
God is in the wheat field
And in the sky again.

God is in the birds
Who sing to you and me.
God’s also in the puppy that
Plays so gleefully.

God is in the mountains,
God is in the sea.
But best of all, don’t you know
God’s in you and me.

I was privileged to attend a Jean Watson Caring Science Institute conference titled “Weaving a Tapestry of Caritas Through Collaboration and Connection.”  I was privileged to be among people who practice living with grace under pressure.  It all seemed so easy to do when I remembered Divine Love dwells within everything and every one of us; that each and every one of us also has a shadow side, and when I learn to accept my own shadow I can more easily accept the shadow of others.  Remembering I am only a part of the whole is humbling and comforting, and knowing how I respond in the world affects the whole.  I left the conference wanting to overlook much and accept others as they are.  Instilled in me is a true desire to respond from my heart where God and I are one.   

What if we could all want to respond from our heart where God and we are one?

Monday, October 19, 2015

Sharing Grace

The Mystery within...
Last weeks post ended asking, “What if we could all go to our heart when the pressure is on?” since it is in the heart, not the mind or gut, where we learn to live with grace.  So this past week I have been asking myself, “What could help me get to or stay in my heart when pressed?”  The poem titled “New Year’s Resolutions” came to mind.  I put it in my blog’s Comfort Messages section and labeled it Ego Training.

New Year’s Resolutions

People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
 Love them anyway.
If you do good, people may accuse you of selfish motives. 
Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you may win false friends and true enemies. 
Succeed anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. 
Be honest and transparent anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. 
Build anyway. 
People who really want help may attack you if you help them.
Help them anyway. 
Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt.
Give the world your best anyway.
The world is full of conflict. 
Chose peace of mind anyway.

Author:  Anonymous

I have also been wondering if you readers have something to share on how to go to or stay in the heart when the pressure is on?

What if we all shared what helps us live with grace?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Grace Under Pressure

From my memoir “God Never Hurries:”

“I found much grace in my trouble.  Because my life was at stake, I became keenly aware of everything.  It was a time of heightened consciousness and vivid dreams.”

* * *

“There was much grace in howling.  It gave voice to my pain.  The deep inhalations and long slow exhalations were good for the body as well as the soul.  It was an instinctive response that helped me understand how the ability to flee is injured when being too nice, and how being too nice normalizes abnormal behavior.”

* * *

“Grace happened frequently on public radio broadcasts.  It was uncanny how things I struggled with would then be featured on my favorite public radio station.”

A ritual of writing about the joys and troubles in each day, and immersing myself in the natural world, tended my grief as I struggled for my mother’s safety in her Alzheimer’s disease, and with my father’s alcoholism.  I came to see God in all things and people.  Time spent in sorrow and solitude somehow nourished me.  Facing my fallibility was freeing.  My soul awakened with outrage.  Neglected and repressed parts of myself learned to speak.  Through vulnerability I came to know the comfort of others’ empathy.  Ever so slowly, God was growing me.  Having gone through all of that I have been puzzling lately how stressed out I have been over less monumental problems.  So in Yoga class this morning, when our instructor asked, “What do people want to work on today?”  I responded, “How about grace under pressure.”  I was grateful my request did not stump him.   

As we lay on our mats doing calming diaphragmatic breathing and heart-opening exercises, our wise instructor said, “One way to combat stress is to be thankful for what we have.”  And I have consciously been working on that.  But then he added, “You also have to get out of your mind and gut and be in your heart.”  Immediately I understood.  When the pressure is on I am nowhere near my heart.  He also said, whatever happens, it is important to know I will be all right.  In the community of my yoga class, with the rapt attention of all, my stress was replaced with a calming anticipation of a more open heart and continued learning.

What if we could all go to our heart when the pressure is on? 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Reviewing Trust

The Mystery within...
I learned many different things about life, and myself, as I struggled to care for my aging parents who suffered from alcoholism and Alzheimer's disease.  Perhaps the most important was to trust God as I was running out of solutions and hope to solve big problems. From God Never Hurries: “What a plan God had to test my trust—to go to the root of my perpetual responsibility condition—to let go of any savior image of myself, to let pain be pain and mystery be mystery.”  I found real courage during that time of significant difficulty.  I did my inner work through daily written reflection and came to own my complicity in my troubles.

Lately, life is again stressful for me on multiple fronts.  I’ve been working hard to find solutions--maybe too hard.  Is daily written reflection currently a part of my life?  No.  I know it would help.  Are there things I should be grateful for?  Yes.  I own a home and have homeowner’s insurance that will cover much of the needed repairs even though they have been dragging out all summer and are still not done.  I have health insurance to cover the medical tests I am currently undergoing.  And I have a pension that pays the bills.  I know there are deeper hidden gifts in my current troubles.  Daily written reflecting could unwrap them for me.  For now, I printed out Teilhard de Chardin’s “Above All Trust in the Slow Work of God” from my Comfort Messages titled Learning Trust.  

What if it was easy to find the gifts in our troubles?  Would we still learn as much? 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Shadow and Light

The Mystery within...
I watched in fascination as the Earth’s shadow gradually darkened the moon’s bright face last night. I wondered what part of earth’s geography belonged to the slow growing darkness that was eclipsing the moon’s reflected sunlight?  What landforms and people existed in that growing shadowy space?  Were famine and violence there?  Carl Jung in his wisdom said:  “Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness of other people.”  And I felt the opportunity that awaits us all in the power of reflection.

I also felt a little sigh of relief that Pope Francis was now safely back home tonight.  He came and looked upon us with God’s eyes bringing Peace, Love, Joy and Compassion and an example to emulate if we wish to bring the same to others.    

What if we could all know the power of reflecting on our shadow?

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Hidden God

The Mystery within...
“Whoever does not know God hidden in suffering does not know God at All.”  Martin Luther.

“Prior to hardship a heart may be proud but honor comes only after one has been humbled.”  Proverbs 18:12

Pope Francis comes to talk to Americans.  I believe he will ask us to look with God’s eyes on those who suffer, suspend all judgment, and act with compassion. Can we be humbled?

What if we could all see God in another and our suffering?